Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mt. Dromedary Unconquered

Start of the Mt. Dromedary Track, eventually - unmarked as well

I can confidently assert that my reputation as a slothbagger remains unblemished. I blame Google Maps for this at least in part, for first sending us up a couple of backroads that ended in large gates and private property signs. The signs may not have deterred me all that much, but the slavering dogs behind them certainly did.
After a roundabout journey which involved an assault from the back of New Norfolk, we did eventually find ourselves on another track which did not however, bear any relationship to the first one. 
It looks like a waxflower but is in fact a lemon -scented boronia (Boronia Citriodora). I didn't think of smelling it

Mt. Dromedary has a couple of claims to fame. It does have a distinctly camelid shape and at 989m it supposedly gives excellent views of the surrounding countryside, especially up and down the Derwent, so good in fact, that famous bushranger Martin Cash used it as his lookout to check for the arrival of stage coaches and or passing strangers who might be worth robbing. At least he was a gentleman about it, always polite to the ladies and kind to the poor, public protest being the only reason he wasn’t hanged and was able to end his life peacefully as police constable and orchardist in the foothills of Claremont below. Mount Dromedary is also reputed to have some interesting geological features – tafoni, which are very popular with striated pardalotes (not the extremely endangered ones).

One of several kinds of berries - possibly a Cheeseberry (Cyathodes straminea) or one of its relatives

We wandered up and wandered down. After a few hours we came to a t- junction and the second of a little clutch of tape markers. Unfortunately, they seemed to point mainly in the direction from which we had come, with no indication of whether to turn right or left.  My walking partner took the high road to the left and I proceeded down what looked like a gentle slope to the right. In case one of you bright sparks suggests we should have used the TasMap for this area, the latest walking guide says that the Tasmap isn’t correct either. Next time I will tape a GPS logger and a camera to my forehead, so that both Google and TasMaps will know exactly where to go. I will also take along a supply of breadcrumbs.

The mountain berries were especially bright here - (Leptocophylla junipera) Don't get excited though they have the taste and texture of polystyrene

After a kilometre or so, it looked as if neither of those tracks went anywhere, so we drew lots and headed south west on the assumption we should at least meet up with the other track from Platform Peak which was the alternative but longer route at the first junction. After another couple of kilometres we came to another track  which veered off confidently to the right – this in my estimation  could have led to the point where the track was to climb steeply uphill for 50 minutes, but instead it made another lunge downhill and in the wrong direction. My friend who is on the whole more cautious than I am, decided that we should quit while we were ahead and turn around before we got terminally  lost. 

White hakea was very prolific here too, though mostly this forest is rather dry and sparse

The tracks may well have been woodcutters’ tracks –there was a lot of sawdust and fallen timber about and the whole area had been burnt out a few years ago, which may have been the reason there were so few markers, as was the case at Little Fisher River a few weeks ago. This is getting to be a habit. I am a bit disappointed with my walks this year.

Three way junction - if anyone recognises this and can tell me which way to go I will give it another try. At least Mt. Dromedary isn't as far as Ben Lomond or the Hartz

By the time we got back to the car my feet felt like bleeding stumps and I had the distinct feeling that I should have stopped about three kilometres earlier. Secretly I am rather relieved that we didn’t find the ascending track. I don’t think I could have survived the 50 minute “Moderate” climb.  My friend estimates that we walked ten or twelve kilometres as it was, and it has taken me at least three days to get over it.  Soon I should be able to get to the upstairs bathroom without my trekking pole.(Don't worry, just joking. No need to send condolences).
Zoom still not working on my camera, but I think this may be a Hobart Brown Butterfly (Argynnina hobartia) Tasmania's one endemic butterfly - there were lots of them on this walk though Tasmania is not blessed with a large number of species, only 39 compared to the mainland's 400 or those in more tropical regions, but this too is an area which has not yet been well studied.

Still, if walking is about leaving the city behind and getting some exercise and fresh air, rather than achieving loftier objectives, we succeeded admirably and also saw some pretty wildflowers and dancing butterflies, not to mention a forlorn lilac tree in full bloom (not a native). You could say we had a lovely walk around Mt. Dromedary, if not exactly up it. However, this walk also reminded me  how truly wild Tasmania is, even just beyond the city fringe. It's no wonder our houses huddle together around a narrow coastal strip and generally turn their backs upon the bush.   

Last rays of sunshine as we head back down

Monday, November 12, 2018

Behind the Wall - Hill Street Reservoir

Gulag Architecture  - not her Majesty's Prison but a historic waterworks begun 1861

It's Architecture Month in Hobart and over the weekend many buildings both public and private, were open to the public. You can have a look at some of them here.
Alas, many places were already booked out even before the brochure was published and the times of several which I would have liked to see, clashed with others I wanted to visit.  From the website, you will see that Hobart certainly has a range of intriguing architecture. I have visited or mentioned some of these buildings such as the Markree House Museum or the charming Egyptian -style Jewish Synagogue previously, and for a short time we lived opposite the Tate House in Taroona, so I thought I would just take a peek at the Hill Street Reservoir which is only a short walk from my house. Alas, this too was already pre -booked out, but after a bit of pestering and pleading, Taleah agreed to let me know if someone failed to turn up and I managed to go on the last tour of same.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was designed to stop people escaping, but it's designed to stop people falling into a vast empty reservoir

Taleah of Taswater

The exterior of the Hill Street Reservoir and Pump Station which I pass on my way to the local shops, had always looked rather grim and Alcatraz –like  with its high fences, barbed wire and  intimidating “No Standing” signs, so I was quite curious as to what lay inside. Besides, I have always been rather intrigued by our industrial heritage. The grand houses and stately homes are usually well -preserved and much is known about them, but our more utilitarian buildings are only now starting to be appreciated when we have lost most of them.  I think of the charming power station on Lake Margaret with its brass fittings and clerestory windows, or the gracious lines of our early, usually Art Deco Hydro buildings or the quaint pump houses in the Derwent Valley, so my expectations were rather high.  [In that regard to Art Deco, see for example, the Jet Service Station built in 1936, number 26 in the brochure, which was also on show].

Interior of original reservoir

In terms of the beauty of the architecture, the reservoir didn't exactly leave me breathless. Only function and necessity have dictated its form, but there are some intriguing details. For instance, as Damian, engineer with Taswater explained, in the early days of the colony, when concrete had not yet been invented and the colony had little limestone, Aboriginal shell middens were burnt and used to make mortar to line the brick cistern. If you look closely at the walls of the first Hill Street Reservoir, built in 1862, you will see bits of shells and burnt wood. 

Damian from Taswater also expounds on the difficulty of maintaining pressure, purity and supply as Hobart grows and the climate warms

Midden shells and charcoal still show in the mortar of the original reservoir built in 1862

The old Reservoir now houses pumps and valves

Unfortunately, these walls leaked like a sieve and as Hobart grew, a second reservoir was built in 1883. By this time, materials had improved and this one still serves as auxiliary storage today with most of the old reservoir now occupied by a pumping station built in the 1980s. This regulates flow to various parts of Hobart and provides supplementary water from the river in summer when mountain supplies run low. The style of the pumping station is utterly Spartan with no concession to any artistic sensibilities at all. Its most remarkable feature beyond a mundane collection of pipes, valves and gauges is its very neat cleaning station, but perhaps that’s a comforting thought. 

Incidentally, Taswater staff have noticed changes as the climate warms – not just in the greater need for back up supplies, but also the increasing growth of algae and other organisms in our catchments, which mean far greater costs to keep water clean and pure.

I probably prefer this end of our water supply, but it's good to know how it gets into our houses

Regardless of its architectural merit, the Hill Street Reservoir plays an important role in the history of Hobart’s water supply -an intriguing story in its own right, and one which we often take for granted. A visit to the original pumphouse at the Waterworks Reserve is very instructive in that regard, or as you walk along the Pipeline Track either from Ferntree to Ridgeway or up to Wellington Falls. In my case today's tour at least represents a mystery solved.

Historic photo of the RidgewayDam given to me by Taswater

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

One for the Birds

Crimson Rosella -  Cluan's photo - much better than my bird pics.

Oh dear,  looks like I missed the Great Aussie Backyard Bird Count which ran during Bird Week from 21 – 28th of October, but never fear, I am keeping an eye on those in the backyard. The Birds in Backyards program still allows citizen scientists to contribute not only to our overall knowledge about the health and distribution of our birds, but also about how our environment is changing. Like frogs and other sensitive creatures, birds are literally the canaries in the coalmine of our world. 

My bird photography is a lot like my seal photography. 
If you play this at fullscreen you may see the rear of a Yellow Throated Honeyeater

For instance, last year’s Backyard Bird Count involving 72, 421 people and 1,972, 250 birds, noted a decline in Kookaburra populations right across the south eastern states, though the reasons have thus far remained elusive. However, there are already indications that the drought is causing birds of prey to seek out coastal cities and driving other birds out of the bush.   

Alas, the most significant numbers of birds in the Tasmanian count for 2017, were for starlings, blackbirds and sparrows, all of them drab introduced species, not our wonderful Scarlet Robins, Superb Fairy Wrens (that is their name) or Firetail Finches, much less the endangered ones, such as the Forty Spotted Pardalote or the Orange Bellied Parrot. The Tasmanian Geographic - an excellent publication by the way, has lots of information with really good photos of many of these.  See for example, what is happening to our Shearwaters or the Forty Spotted Pardalote.

Still, Tasmania remains a great place for twitchers.* It has over 200 species packed into a compact area -68,401 square Km - about the size of Ireland, Switzerland or the State of Virginia, according to Google. At least twelve of the species are unique to Tasmania largely because of its island status and long isolation. 

It turns out that our current visitor is most likely a young or female Yellow Throated Honeyeater Lichenostomus-flavicollisone which is endemic to Tasmania, though I have yet to see its throat. (The birds in backyards website has a great bird identifying feature and also tells you what you could plant to help encourage birds into your garden). Through watching our bird we have become much more aware of the other birds in our immediate environment and also the seasonal changes –swallows and gulls swoop and dart overhead  and we see a young sparrow’s first tentative attempt at flight. Despite   the traffic noise, roadworks and renovators, there is also an amazing array of bird calls and songs. You can also hear some of those on the Birds in Backyards website.

Preparing for take -off. At least this little sparrow stood still, 
and yes, I should definitely wash that window

Any Aussies reading this can of course download the app and register on the Birds in Backyards bsite and join in on their next survey in December and January, but there's no reason why anyone with access to a window can't make their own observations and or keep a visual diary.
I have also just read that Cornell University's Ornithology Department held its first World Wide Bird Count last May and will now conduct  them in May each year. I will be interested to see whether the results of the Great Aussie backyard Bird Count will be merged with it, since the numbers listed there for Australia are only a fraction of those counted by Australians.

* Twitchers = Birdwatchers to the uninitiated

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Acknowledging a forgotten people

 I'm celebrating today. I have just received the first copy of the reprint of my sister’s book. This means that at least one of my projects has come to fruition this year.  The first two small print runs had sold out and there were still some outstanding requests, but my sister hasn’t been in the best of health lately and couldn’t do it herself. It was supposed to be really easy.  Sabi deserves loads of credit for getting it out there in the first place, but best of all, it can now be bought through almost any bookshop anywhere in the world and can also be ordered online via Amazon, Booktopia, The Book Depository and possibly even this blog, when I work out how to put the widget on. Copies of the book are also available in several libraries, especially around Melbourne, at the Immigration Museum and in some University German Departments. I am talking about the English version here. The German version published by Verlag Sindlinger -Burchartz*  was released in April.The difference in price is because the English version has some colour illustrations, in case you were wondering.

Gundel 1940's - No, this picture isn't in the book, but it's one of my favourites

 So what is this book about and why does it matter?

 On the surface “A Life in Two Suitcases” is a simple story lovingly pieced together from fragments, diary entries, letters and my sister’s recollections of our mother’s life.  Gundel’s cultured, middle class life in southern Germany is shattered as Hitler rises to power. She is expelled from school for writing an anti -fascist essay, some of her family members are forced to flee and neither of her parents survive the war. As peace returns, she is at last able to marry and she and her husband begin to eke out a modest living. However, after another personal tragedy, she is persuaded to seek a new life Australia, though this does not prove to be the utopia she imagined.

Through the prism of Gundel’s story we see what life was like during the Nazi era in Germany, particularly for those of Jewish descent, and what Australia was like in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. That picture is not always flattering. See for example, what Gundel wrote of her first impressions of George Town in the 1950s:

“But everything is so empty: there is a lack of fantasy, spirit, soul and heart. Here one becomes spiritually and emotionally sterile.”  [“A life in two Suitcases”: P. 76]

Later, reflecting on the migrant experience as we moved yet again, she wrote:

“Somehow we are always in transit. I don’t mean that we are physically on the move, but since we have severed our roots in Europe, we are rootless and have become spiritual gypsies…” [“A life in two Suitcases”: P. 89]

Fortunately she eventually comes to appreciate those wide open spaces, and there are also some lighter moments, but that’s all I'm going to tell you for now.

This book is not perfect in every way. The poetry sounds very stilted in English, some of the pictures could be better. I even disagree with some of the things my sister wrote - for instance Dad's car was not a Hillman, but a maroon gangster saloon with big running boards, and there were no plastic bottles in the 50's, but it doesn't change the substance of the story. It is about real people and real lives. It's significance lies in the fact that it gives a voice to the experience of many of those Post World War II migrants for whom coming to Australia was not necessarily the universal success story which almost everyone now seems to claim. For example,  Dr John Hirst, Emeritus Scholar, School of Historical and European Studies, at La Trobe University, writing in The Conversation  in 2014, began by saying,   “Let’s admit it, Post War Immigration was a success “ simply because most migrants did eventually end up owning a home and their children usually did well.  

However, this glosses over the fact that it was not always a happy experience for everyone. To his credit Peter Mares in "Not Quite Australian" 2016:16)** mentions the bullying, taunts, social exclusion and social stratification, though at least there was no overt persecution.  A Greek friend, who came to Australia at around the same time as we did, says her mother cried every day.  Large numbers, around 10% returned to their homeland when this became possible due to growing affluence and the advent of cheap airfares.  In Gundel’s time, that was an impossible dream. 

Why does this matter 50 or 60 years later?

As Barbara Roche, the UK’s former Minister for Immigration and now Chair of Trustees of Britain’s recently opened National Immigration Museum, explained at its opening in 2017. “…personal stories (are also) national stories; all our stories,” and a way of exploring our history.

So far the literature has been remarkably sparse with respect to the 4.2 million people who migrated to Australia between 1945 and 1985 (although around 40% still came from the UK).  Perhaps like Gundel, their lives ended prematurely, or they lacked the language skills or the leisure to write down their experiences, or they thought their lives were simply too ordinary and no one would want to hear about them. It certainly did not do to suggest that this “shining example of Australian humanitarianism and generosity” (Mares 2016:13)**which represented a ‘seismic shift’ in immigration policy, was anything less than perfect.  To quote from Barbara Roche‘s opening address again, although she was speaking about the UK:

“Britain has one of the best museum sectors in the world, but there is no cultural space devoted to conveying the importance of migration in the narrative of this country. It has always seemed a strange omission, as if there is a reluctance to acknowledge the integral role migration has played in the formation of Britain as we know it.”

The same could be said of Australia too, although Melbourne did get its Immigration Museum in 1998. No -one wants a pity party, nor was it all bad, but we shouldn't airbrush the stories of quite a large number of people and a particular period out of our history either, as we  used to do with aboriginal history and convict history.  I like to think Australia has grown up a lot since those times, and that this book will help to fill in that void.  Alas, the people who would have appreciated it the most, have largely left the stage, but it will resonate with their families and anyone who has had to make a new life in a distant country. The people who should read it, are those who have stayed comfortably at home.  

 As new waves of migrants sweep the world and we now embrace sushi, burritos, laksa and Rogan Josh, it might be worth pausing for a moment while sipping that latte, or that nice little drop of Merlot or Chardonnay, or even while eating your muesli or yoghurt, to drink a little toast to those pioneers and say a silent thank you.

A big thank you also to all the people who have helped me with this project over the last couple of months, especially Scott Jones at the Waratah Group, Jacinta at Focal Press, the many people I have badgered  at Ingram Spark, my fabulous family and in-house IT team, and of course the lovely Michael C.  who not only offered to write a program to overcome some technical issues, but provided much emotional encouragement. 

PS As my friend Michael pointed out, Australians may not have been terribly enthusiastic about all the newcomers, but by allowing people to come to Australia, they did save many from persecution and  possible extermination.

 (Gundel’s family is better known in Germany, partly because of Gundel's own writing, but also because of the missionary work in India by previous generations and the connection to  Herman Hesse [Winner of 1946 Nobel Prize for Literature] see for example the Herman Gundert portal at the University of Tuebingen about Gundel's great grandparents and Hesse's grandparents which will be available internationally with translations as of 20/11/2018) .

** This line is loosely borrowed from “Not Quite Australian” by Peter Mares (2016: Text Publishing, Melbourne). It talks about contemporary migration and temporary migration and how this differs from earlier periods.